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Oxford University Press - Online Resource Centres

Hale et al: Criminology 3e

Chapter 11: Chapter synopses

The substance of this chapter is determined significantly by the relative invisibility of corporate crime from popular and academic view. It begins by examining the emergence of the concept of corporate crime, discussing what this term means, and then reviewing the extent to which corporate crime represents a crime problem. The main body of the chapter considers various dimensions of corporate crime, paying particular attention to issues of visibility, causation and control. The central aim of this chapter is to mark out corporate crime as a legitimate area of criminological concern.

Corporate crime is a wide-ranging term, covering a vast range of offences of omission and commission with differing types of modus operandi, perpetrators, effects, and victims. A number of academic studies have focused upon a range of financial crimes, including: illegal share dealings, mergers, and takeovers; various forms of tax evasion; bribery; and other forms of illegal accounting. A second general area of corporate crimes are those committed directly against consumers, including illegal sales/marketing practices; the sale of unfit goods, such as adulterated food; conspiracies to fix prices and/or carve up market share amongst different companies, false/illegal labelling or information; and the fraudulent safety testing of products. Thirdly, we can identify crimes arising out of the employment relationship. These include cases of sexual and racial discrimination and other offences against employment law; violations of wage laws; violations against rights to organise and take industrial action; and a whole range of offences against employee occupational health and safety. Finally, crimes against the environment include illegal emissions to air, water, and land; the failure to provide, or the provision of false, information; hazardous waste dumping; and illegal manufacturing practices.

Corporate crime has enormous economic, physical and social costs. Given its consequences, this raises an obvious question: why is corporate crime almost entirely absent from 'crime, law and order' agendas?

The fact that this chapter repeats a demand made by Sutherland over half a century ago ? that corporate crime be given greater attention within the discipline of criminology ? indicates the significance of the economic, political and social, obstacles to the task of taking corporate crime seriously. What is at issue here is power ? for exposing corporate crime means exposing crimes associated with what are relatively powerful organisations, moreover organisations with which states (local, regional, national) have increasingly intimate relationships. There has, of course, been progress within criminology since Sutherland's 'clarion call' ? but corporate crime remains a problematic and contested area of inquiry. Notwithstanding the definitional, conceptual, methodological and theoretical disagreement and problems, it speaks to phenomena which on almost any criterion one chooses ? the nature and extent of economic, physical, and social harms ? are significant crime and social problems. But in the current era, corporate crime research may be more difficult, even if it is more pressing, not least because of the increasing valorisation of business activity alongside the power of corporations to seek, via their political allies, the decriminalisation of their activities through the introduction of various forms of self-regulation or through simple deregulation, each of which appear to be significant trends in contemporary capitalist nation-states.

Lastly, and taking us back to the discipline of criminology, corporate crime research remains worthwhile simply because it can perform an important role for the discipline. It encourages criminological reflexivity. If the criminological imagination can shed important light upon corporate crime, then there is no doubting that the study of corporate crime is itself one means of reinvigorating that same criminological imagination.